Activists are calling for the release of a former journalist detained after he penned two short stories about a character strikingly similar to Pan Gang. the chairman of Yili Group, China's largest dairy producer.
Liu Chengkun, a former journalist for state media who runs the financial news service Tianlu Caijing on social media, was detained by police from Inner Mongolia's regional capital Hohhot on April 2 on suspicion of "libel."
Liu wrote two short stories featuring a fictional "Mr. Pan" and posted them on Tianlu Caijing. The stories were later deleted and reposted to the Sina.com finance channel, the New York-based Committee to the Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported.
Two lawyers hired by Liu's family were allowed to visit him in the Hohhot No. 1 Detention Center on Monday, where he told them the stories were works of literature, and denied committing libel.
"When the lawyers met with him, he said he had been criticized by the authorities but not mistreated or tortured in any way," Liu's wife, who gave only her surname Li, told RFA on Thursday. "The lawyers told me ... his mood is unstable because he is worried about us back home."
"He wrote a statement telling everyone that he is innocent, and asking me to take good care of our kid and elderly parents," she said.
One of the lawyers, Wang Lei, told RFA that Liu's stories had come entirely from his imagination.
"Nothing Liu Chengkun did amounts to a crime," Wang said on Thursday. "The stories made it clear that they were a work of imaginative fiction, and the average person wouldn't have thought they were referring to a specific individual."
"Also, there was no intent to libel, from his point of view," he said. "There is also the free speech angle, which is to say that even if the stories alluded to [Pan], this is also all right ... that is the free speech part of [our argument]."
A former colleague of Liu's who gave only his surname Deng said the journalist's family and supporters had only decided this week to go public with the details of his case, following the meeting with his lawyers.
He said Liu had dismissed warnings about possible retaliation over the stories by saying that they were clearly creative works.
"I told him to be careful, but he said ... the stories included a disclaimer saying that the stories weren't about anyone in particular," Deng said.
Deng said Liu was among a number of people detained around the same time at the apparent instigation of Pan Gang, including Zou Guangxiang.
Zou, who ran a financial news blog titled Guangxiang Caijing, was detained on Mar. 28 at his home in Beijing for "spreading rumors," state-run media reported at the time.
His detention came two days after he published an article on his blog about tense relations between Pan and the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Zou wrote that Pan was secretly running his business remotely from the United States for nearly six months and was taken away by authorities right after his recent return to China, according to CPJ.
Yili Group's board of directors said in a Mar. 27 a statement saying that the company is operating normally and denied that Pan was being investigated by the authorities.
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.